Opinion

SK eatery offers tasty alternative to holiday excess

Leaping from the sky like a parachute jumper from an airplane, the gentle, fat and jolly snowflakes drifted unhurriedly to the wet pavement, landing in a wet mass to cavort with their brethren and watch breathlessly (Do you know a snowflake who can breathe?) as their fellows tumbled down upon them, gaining speed and force, adhering to cars and jackets, coats and shoe tops.

At once beautiful and graceful in their ornate decoration of luscious fir trees and a nuisance underfoot, they didn’t deter the travelers headed for one destination — The Moon Dog Too.

Marching in singularly or by twos, the patrons stomp in, shaking the fat, wet hangers-on from their shoulders and hats, determined to enjoy a little camaraderie and a lot of wonderful food.

This day, Christmas Day, the Moon Dog Too staff offered a $1 Christmas meal, complete with turkey and ham, mashed potatoes and stuffing, corn on the cob and fresh, homemade apple and pumpkin pie.

The question you might ask is, why I was there, joining them on Christmas Day and the answer is probably more complex than it needs to be.

You see, I have grown weary of Christmas, all the hype and no delivery, the promise and no payoff, the lights, the decorations, the relentless consumerism, the waste, all the burdensome necessity of insuring that everyone else gets what they want or need for “Christmas,” as if you haven’t adequately thanked them or loved them enough for the rest of the year.

Like a soldier on a hundred mile march through the snow, I have grown cold and weary to Christmas and everything this joyless holiday represents.

Anyway, I told my daughter, there are foreclosures occurring across the country and 25% more people seeking help from food banks.

We have a war raging in a foreign country, where our citizens are dying every day, how can you expect me to be as frivolous and wasteful as Christmas in America demands?

She replied that my excuses for not wanting to celebrate Christmas grow more elaborate every year and were just that — excuses.

Think of the cheerleaders, she said, they know how to celebrate Christmas like “normal people.”

Ah, the cheerleaders — my sister’s family of three cute, bubbly, bouncy, ever-so-energetic and popular cheerleaders.

Christmas for them is one of endless presents and parties with no time to breathe in between, a seemingly unsustainable whirlwind of dates, outings and festivities that don’t end until all the gift cards and Christmas money has been spent.

Christmas for the cheerleaders is never one of disappointment, which is what it has always been for me – one giant, colossal disappointment.

Ah, leave it to cheerleaders to make you feel inadequate.

So, there I sat in Christmas mass on Christmas morning, after having called the cheerleaders to wish them well (although, they hardly needed my wishes), feeling that my efforts to renounce the worldly and wasteful aspects of Christmas had backfired. I, by nature, drawn to the simple and austere, may have gone too far. There was no Christmas ham, Christmas cookies, tree, lights, eggnog, visitors, and even presents.

Oh, Lord, I wondered, what had I done — or not done? Nothing was even open at noon on Christmas Day. I couldn’t even buy a Christmas ham.

Then I remembered the sign in downtown Port Orchard, that Moon Dog Too was offering Christmas dinners for a dollar. Who said there aren’t Christmas miracles?

So, I drove 20 miles an hour through the snow tunnels created by all the white-capped trees, feeling like the adventure was part of the magic and found myself welcomed by the warmth and hospitality of the crew at Moon Dog’s.

It had an old-fashioned medieval kind of feel, as if I were a weary wanderer stumbling upon a warm and inviting inn.

There awaited a feast for a king with all proceeds going to benefit Helpline.

I could even bring back dinners for the family. What could be more perfect?

Top this, cheerleaders.

The brainchild of new owner (since April), Darryl Baldwin, the “community dinners for $1,” is a way for the bar and grill to serve the community, those who toil and struggle every day.

“We have so many people who come in here and share their stories of struggle. So many people, so much heartache and stress, so much struggle and hope. We wanted to be able to brighten their day and lift their spirits.”

And so, they did. With food homemade by staff and served by caring customer and Helpline volunteers.

“I have this amazing crew of people who work for me,” Baldwin said. “I have never advertised, but the right person always comes forward and together we have assembled this great team, this amazing team. Having been part of the service industry for years, many of them have struggled and have been graced by help from the food bank. It was their idea that we donate the money to Helpline.”

Over $300 was donated from the Thanksgiving feast, and another $210 or so will be donated from the Christmas meal.

“Seventy-five percent of the people we served, we figured, were retired people or others on fixed incomes,” Baldwin said. “The other 25 percent or so were people who just wanted to come by and share a meal and donate. Some people just wandered in, in disbelief, surprised that we would offer such a meal for a dollar. But I do like to surprise people.”

The biggest surprise may lie in the way he is operating the bar and grill, turning it into a place that openly cares for its clientele, a place that offers theme dinners and even limousine service on New Year’s Eve, “to keep our customers safe from drunk drivers.”

After 30 years running manufacturing plants and making other people very rich, Darryl, originally from L.A., has a business that is the living embodiment of three key principles — to provide great food, excellent customer service and fine entertainment by a team that operates as a family.

While the business is not necessarily family-friendly — it’s still a bar, mind you — it’s a friendly, caring place that offers more than the ubiquitous sports and live music, including, daily games of “Bud’s Time Trivia, where we educate Port Orchard, one person at a time,” and periodic theme dinners, which take people on journeys back in time.

Coordinated with local brew masters and capped at 20 people or 10 couples, the theme dinners feature five courses and lessons in the history and culture of a particular time period.

“The food is so endless and so filling, that there really isn’t room for the beer,” Baldwin said, “ although we do occasionally have the brewmasters come and enchant us with their stories.”

Several theme dinners are set for this coming year: an Irish New Year’s party with the band, the Whistling Oysters offering their sea shanties, Irish jigs and slightly inappropriate lyrics; a Jan. 17, southern-style meal in honor of Martin Luther King, complete with crawdads, fried catfish, southern-fried chicken and more; and a delectably decadent Valentine’s Day feast of lush foods with beers from the Lazy Boy Brewery.

These theme dinners averaging $50 a person help subsidize the community dollar-a-meal dinners.

“It’s all great fun,” Baldwin said. “A gift from my place to you.”

Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.

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